Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

Crocodiles, Music, and a Sorry Sanctuary


I just needed to man up! Whatever I had last night was not malaria. A decent breakfast and a swim in some, apparently crocodile-friendly waters and I am fine. This area of the lake is busy with crocodile. Friends of ours who travelled here with us last night went for a morning walk and reported seeing a small one just over the hill in a bay nearby. The majority here rarely grow over a couple of meters and it is extremely odd for Nick on Chizamulu to have one off the end of his deck. Most people swim here for a crackingly good snorkel. Although they aren’t the only place in Malawi to see an abundance of crocs, the small islands are great locations, not only to relax away from the business of the mainland, but also to see a few crocs basking as predatory champions. With so many humans around, exceptional croc-spotting spots aren’t easy to come by, but quietly, the dangerous reptiles thrive. Its good to see them doing so well.
There isn’t much of a market for croc spotting. Most people want to see large mammals and birds. Naturally, it isn’t a good idea to swim in protected waters. Hippo aren’t the only danger. Crocs will literally eat anything and in the parks they chow down mostly on catfish and anything that moves around the water. In Lake Malawi it is the same scenario. They’ll probably also treat themselves to a bird once in a while and maybe a stray dog. I have only seen crocodile in national park watering holes and the reportedly large ones that have turned up in the popularised spots on Lake Malawi, I have missed by only a few days.
Crocs hold a strange presence amongst black magic and witchcraft here in Malawi. They are only revered by the witch doctors that practice magic with parts of them, although it is presumed very bad luck to kill the crocs in the first place. When dangerous crocs are found around the lake shores (and not in the river mouths), they are shot. Sadly, they present a huge danger to the small communities which are remotely situated around its shores. The only people with guns are the police (and they don’t carry arms 24/7). Police officers have been known to come to the call of the locals troubled by said beasts, but they have handed their gun over to a white man to shoot the critter for fear of being cursed. Obviously, wildlife lovers will think this is an absurd situation and one practice which must be stopped. Why must we kill these reptiles who have such a responsibility and right to be here? Why can’t we safely relocate them? The main argument against relocation is that resources aren’t available (trucks/petrol/time/manpower) and the second reason is that the croc is divided up and eaten. If it’s not in the national park it is essentially much needed protein. In all honesty, croc tastes pretty good and it’s important to know that villagers aren’t going around killing these animals because a) it’s a bad omen, b) it’s dangerous to seek them out, c) only poachers and police tend to have guns and d) people don’t live where there is an abundance of crocs (because they have already killed them all). Crocs do fairly well. They haven’t changed much since their evolvement, so it’s fair to say they come equipped. They even put magical curses on people if they are killed!
Ten years ago, the population of Chizamulu Island was 450 people. It seemed idyllic. It was sustainable. It was peaceful, and it’s why Nick moved here to quietly manage his lifestyle and welcome the extremely intrepid guests that fancied trekking this far off the beaten path. It’s another beauty spot on the relatively unmapped map, and it was a curious place.
Now the population is 3500 and frustratingly the island is a struggling retreat. The noise from the nearby village is indecent with a local shack blaring out music daily, starting at 6am. Even with the scheduled daily power cuts (power is only on from 6am to mid day and then again from roughly 6pm to 10pm), the music is a constant with a generator and is a horrendous soundtrack to the scenery and peace that the island once was. The villagers scream and shout, dogs bark, babies cry, chickens cockadoodledoo around the clock and even a boat or two each day passes with music blaring from the back of it – it’s the local ferry!
Can a peaceful business survive on the island with abrasive, invasive and rapidly overgrowing population, while a bass beat which throbs through the ground and robs people of their sanctuary? No. I say invasive because many of the residents here, although Malawian, have been “marooned” here after often being in trouble with the law or there communities. They have found themselves needing an escape from the troubles they had on the mainland; particularly problematic fishermen. When the nearby bar owner, the police, the tourism board, and the village Chiefs on the island refuse to cooperate or even acknowledge that the noise pollution and population is an issue, frustrating ignorance towards helping any small businesses that remain is characteristic. It could be all too much for the patient man that runs his tourist lodge here. Without assuming anything too cloak and dagger, the issue may disappear by other means. Crocs aren’t too far away… However it could also nearly be the sad end to the very limited tourism and previously-sustained beauty on Chizamulu. Year on year the situation changes; I can certainly see plenty of pretty potential but it is fair to say that something radical needs to happen to save the island’s remote, sanctuary-esque reputation.

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Where am I now?

After extensive work and tours through Southern Africa, most of my time is spent between Malawi and Europe.
Go Untamed Safaris was striding into top gear, but volatile poitics in 2019, Covid in 2020, the impacts of Russia vs the World as well as insesent corruption forced my hand.
The dust is now settling. Everything has changed. New chapters are about to be written.

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